UK universities face nationwide strike as pay and pension dispute escalates

Students at 150 UK universities are facing further disruption after faculty and staff voted in favor of a nationwide strike in an ongoing row over pay and pensions.

The Universities and Colleges Union said on Monday that its members exceeded the 50% turnout threshold required for strike action in two separate ballots.

The votes mark the first time an education union has won a mandate for a nationwide strike since laws limiting unions’ ability to call strikes were introduced in 2016 and come amid an escalating crisis of the cost of living.

They also set the stage for months of interrupted classes as well as potential new strikes at schools and colleges.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said university workers were “ready to bring the whole industry to a standstill, unless serious negotiations begin very soon”.

“University staff are essential workers in communities across the UK. They send a clear message that they will not accept falling wages, job insecurity and attacks on pensions.

UK universities have been locked in a dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions since 2018, with a 10-day strike earlier this year.

Previously, individual UCU branches had to obtain their own warrants to stage walkouts. But in this ballot, the union demanded a mandate in all universities.

In the pay and working conditions ballot, 81.1 percent of respondents voted to strike, with a 57.8 percent turnout among members at 145 universities.

In a second pension ballot, 84.9% of respondents at 67 institutions participating in the universities’ pension scheme voted in favor of the walkouts, with a turnout of 60.2%.

The union will decide its next steps at a national meeting on November 3.

The likely strikes will add to a wave of industrial unrest in the UK as workers demand pay rises in line with inflation, which is at 10.1%.

While the three largest teachers’ unions moved to walkouts last week to protest a funding cut, UCU members at higher education institutions are already on strike.

UCU has called for a “significant pay rise” for all university staff in response to the cost of living crisis, saying they have been offered a 3% raise this year. He added that he wanted the controversial cuts made to the USS program at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic reversed.

Universities UK, which represents the sector and is overseeing talks on pension terms, said pension contributions were “on the edge of affordability”.

“Universities are adept at mitigating the impact of the strikes on student learning and are therefore prepared for any further industrial action that may arise over the coming months.”